On Larry Nasser
September 15, 2021 — Senate Judiciary Committee, US Senate, Washington DC
I want to begin by thanking the Judiciary Committee, including Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Grassley for their commitment to seeking the truth for the hundreds if not thousands who are systematically abused, hundreds, if not thousands who were systematically abused by Larry Nassar, and for this committee’s diligence to demand accountability regarding federal law enforcement’s misconduct.
I also want to express my gratitude to the other brave survivors here today, my friends and my teammates, for sharing their stories and continuing to press for justice and reform.
Over the past few years it has become painfully clear how a survivor’s healing is affected by the handling of their abuse. And it disgusts me that we are still fighting for the most basic answers and accountability over six years later.
In 2015, it was known that at least six national team athletes had been abused by Nassar. There was even one of the athletes that was abused on film. Given our abuser’s unfettered access to children, stopping him should have been a priority. Instead, the following occurred, the FBI failed to interview pertinent parties in a timely manner, it took over 14 months for the FBI to contact me despite my many requests to be interviewed by them. The records established that Steve Penny, FBI agent Jay Abbott, and their subordinates worked to conceal Nassar’s crimes. Steve Penny arranged with the FBI to conduct my interview at the Olympic Training Center, where I was under the control and observation of USA Gymnastics, and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The day of my interview, Steve Penny flew to the Olympic Training Center and he made sure I was aware he was there.
I felt pressured by the FBI to consent to Nassar’s plea deal. The agent diminished the significance of my abuse, and made me feel my criminal case wasn’t worth pursuing. The special agent in charge of investigating Nassar met Steve Penny for beers to discuss job opportunities in the Olympic movement. Another FBI agent worked with Steve Penny to determine jurisdiction without interviewing the survivors.
I’ve watched multiple high ranking officials at USAG, USOPC, and FBI resign or retire without explanation of how they may have contributed to the problem, some of whom were publicly thanked for their service and rewarded with severance or bonus money.
My reports of abuse were not only buried by USAG, USOPC, but they were also mishandled by federal law enforcement officers who failed to follow their most basic duties. The FBI and others within both USAG and USOPC knew that Nassar molested children and did nothing to restrict his access. Steve Penny and any USAG employee could have walked a few steps to file a report with the Indiana Child Protective Services, since they shared the same building.
Instead they quietly allowed Nassar to slip out the side door, knowingly allowing him to continue his work at MSU, Sparrow Hospital, a USAG club, and even run for school board. Nassar found more than 100 new victims to molest, it was like serving innocent children up to a pedophile on a silver platter. Why did none of these organizations warn anyone? USAG and USOPC have a long history of enabling abuse by turning a blind eye. Both organizations knew of Nassar’s abuse long before it became public, although you wouldn’t know that by reading their press releases, which would have you and their corporate sponsors believe that athlete’s safety comes first. We have called for a fully independent, factual investigation for years now. Because I, and these women who sit before you know firsthand these organizations and their public statements are not to be trusted. They claim they want accountability, but then seek to restrict which staff can be interviewed, which documents can be examined, and claim attorney-client privilege over and over again. The so-called investigations these organizations orchestrated were not designed to provide the answers we so critically need.
Why are we left to guess while USAG and USOPC deliberately ignored reported abuse? Was it to protect the value of the sponsorships? The LA28 bid? Their own jobs? To avoid criminal liability? Perhaps, but why must we speculate when the facts are obtainable and the stakes are so high? Why would duly sworn federal law enforcement officers ignore reports of abuse by a doctor across state lines and country borders? For a future job opportunity? Or were there additional incentives and pressures? Why must we speculate when the facts are obtainable and the stakes are so high?
Just as it is naive to assume the problem only rests with Nassar, it is unrealistic to think we can grasp the full extent of culpability without understanding how and why USAG and USOPC chose to ignore abuse for decades, and why the interplay among these three organizations led the FBI to willingly disregard our reports of abuse. Without knowing who knew what, when we cannot identify all enablers or determine whether they are still in positions of power.
We just can’t fix a problem we don’t understand, and we can’t understand the problem unless, and until we have all of the facts. If we don’t do all we can to get these facts, the problems we are here to address will persist, and we are deluding ourselves if we think other children can be spared the institutionalized tolerance and normalization of abuse that I, and so many others had to endure.
I thank you for your time, your commitment, and your genuine concern for those survivors who relied on the FBI to do the right thing.
Chairman Dick Durbin: I thank you for being here. We have a job to do, and we know it. It begins with this hearing, the accountability of the FBI and the Department of Justice, and all of law enforcement when it comes to abuse cases such as those that you have endured personally. But there’s an historic element here in that your audience includes young people like yourself who are victims and survivors themselves. I have one minute in question, and my question basically to the panel, anyone who cares to respond, what would you say to other young athletes who may be suffering in silence or wrestling with the decision about whether to speak out? Ms. Raisman?
Raisman: The first thing that I would want to say to anybody that’s watching this that’s suffering in silence or has been through something really traumatic is that I support them, I believe them, and just be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself, know that I’m struggling too, I’m still navigating how to heal from this. And healing is a roller coaster. There are some days I feel better, some days I feel like I’m taking a bunch of steps backwards, and that’s okay. We’re all human, we’re all doing the best that we can.
But I would encourage whoever is out there that’s listening to tell someone whenever they feel comfortable. And it’s so important to have a good support system and a community around you. And if you’re someone out there that doesn’t have a good support system, that’s okay. Sometimes it can take some time to find a good support system, so I encourage you to not give up until you find that support that you deserve. And just remember that I believe you, I support you, you are not alone, and I encourage you to ask for help.